It shouldn’t be much of a surprise that some people whose names appear prominently on the covers of books have limited input when it comes to the words contained therein. But I still find it intriguing that Jamie Oliver – nominal “author” of nearly 20 culinary tomes – has just finished reading a book for the first time. This isn’t to belittle Oliver himself, who is dyslexic; but I wonder how the thousands of people who have bought his titles feel about the fact that he presumably hasn’t even read them, let alone written them.
Many people object to literary theories such as Barthes’s Death of the Author, or Wimsatt and Beardsley’s Intentional Fallacy, which argue that conventional criticism pays too much heed to what a writer means to convey; the notion that a work is effectively written and rewritten by each successive reader is just a step too far into postmodernism. Dickens wrote Nicholas Nickleby and we read the same Nicholas Nickleby and that’s all there is to it. But the same people seem pretty relaxed about the notion that Jamie Oliver or Katie Price or Victoria Beckham can claim some kind of responsibility for a book in which their involvement was distinctly meagre. The name on the front is simply a brand, bestowing a sort of integrity upon the product; it must be good because that nice Jamie Oliver off of the telly says it is. But how can Oliver transfer any of his chirpy, heart-on-sleeve, pukka integrity malarkey, easy tiger, to a book if he doesn’t even know what’s in it?